My youngest has taken it upon herself to become the household butterfly keeper. Consequently, we have Monarch Caterpillars in various stages of development—chewing up Milkweed leaves and pooping out vast quantities all while residing indoors in different “wasp-protection” cages.
It all started with our Florida Grandma purchasing the girls a Milkweed plant. We planted it by the kitchen window in the hopes that it would indeed attract some butterflies. Sure enough, a Monarch Butterfly located the plant and covered it with eggs. Once the caterpillars hatched, they were watched carefully, the girls counting the days until they would make chrysalises. But then, one morning, I heard the girls screaming in dismay: a wasp was systematically flying around the plant stinging first one then the next caterpillar. I ran outside to kill that wasp, but it was too late – all our almost-fully grown caterpillars were dead.
Ever since then, Sweetie has taken it upon herself to scour the garden, round up as many caterpillars as she can find (Milkweed proliferates), and bring them indoors for safe keeping. She goes out every morning, collecting Milkweed leaves for them to chew on, cleans the cage out (because the site of all that poop in a cage in my house makes me green), and in the interim, uses the caterpillars as her own real live Littlest Pets. We have caterpillars riding in miniature strollers, caterpillars riding in trains, caterpillars sleeping in Barbie bathroom sinks, and escaped caterpillars crawling across their own personal Sahara – our endless, dune-colored carpet. The caterpillars even get measured and named: Tiney, Spikie, Mr. Crawl (my personal favorite), Cutie, Tiger, Mike…. The problem is, once they form chrysalises, they become nameless once more – we’re not sophisticated enough to distinguish one from another.
Once a fully grown caterpillar is ready to morph into a chrysalis, it will go to the top of the cage and hang upside down for hours. The other morning, we were counting our chrysalises, when I noticed that one of these inverted caterpillars was very dark. I was just telling the girls that we should check it every few minutes when, right before our eyes it started to change! I always imagined it would ooze the green chrysalis, but no, it simply changes: starting at the bottom of the inverted bend, black and yellow morph into green! Then, once it’s almost all green, the black legs and antennae are pushed up towards the top and the now-green pupa starts to spin, twisting around and around for about 30 seconds until this black “waste” falls off to the bottom of the cage. The entire process takes about 4 minutes, and we saw it! Enthralled? Completely! Captivated? Totally! Filled with wonder? Absolutely!
As a homeschooling mom, my ultimate educational goal is the creation of wonder – that oft-illusive magic that makes for the perfect learning environment. Well, that morphing caterpillar created more wonder in 4 minutes than I’ve been able to fabricate all year long! I’m still telling people about it and the girls are still talking about it.
Today, we had 6 butterflies emerge. Once more, we sat in front of the cage, and I had someone keep guard at all times because we could tell a butterfly was on its way out! Sure enough, on “2nd watch”, Sunshine started yelling and Sweetie and I came running. There was that brand new butterfly, emerging from its tiny chrysalis! Within just a few minutes, its wet wings were dripping and spreading out. Then, a few hours later, it started beating those wings, and we released it. We watched it flit through the garden then land on the closest milkweed, ready to start the whole cycle all over again!
Now that is WONDER-FUL!
Psalms 8:3 “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers…”